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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Monday Mailbag: Demko’s Inexperience, Trading Brock Boeser, and the Zack MacEwen Victory Lap

For the most part Demko’s looked exactly how I expected: talented, with the ability to take over a game on occasion, but inexperienced and prone to letting in the odd bad goal. On some nights, he’s kept the team in the game, and on others, he’s been the reason they couldn’t close it out. That inconsistency is certainly cause for frustration among Canucks fans, but it’s not all that surprising. Demko still only has 35 NHL games and just over 1000 shots against to his name, and if there’s one thing that’s really been a detriment to him down the stretch, it’s his inexperience. He’s made a couple of errors due to poor attention to detail, which is the kind of thing that ideally would come after repeated looks at the NHL level. It’s still surprising to me that this is his first full season as an NHL backup, given how strongly he had performed in Utica in 2017-18 and the fact that Anders Nilsson never really got it together during his time in Vancouver.

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I can’t understand why so many fans seem so eager to trade Brock Boeser. Even in the event that the Canucks re-sign Tyler Toffoli, he’s still their best right winger in addition to being young and signed to a reasonable deal for the next two seasons. If the team is looking to free up cap space, they have a litany of players signed to expensive contracts that would be far more suitable candidates.

As lukewarm as I felt about the Canucks dealing away two high draft picks over the course of the last 7 or 8 months, I don’t think it’s wise for them to deal away any core players to recoup picks. They’re entering their window now, and like it or not, they’re pretty much committed to attempting to be competitive in the short-term. Unfortunately, even with the additions of Miller and Toffoli, they’re far from a lock to make the playoffs, so it seems unwise to me to deal Boeser for assets that aren’t going to help the team for another couple of years. If there was a young, top-4 defenseman available, then you’d have my attention, but trading Brock Boeser for picks and cap space would just leave the Canucks spinning their wheels, as they’ve been doing for most of the past five years.

It seems increasingly unlikely that the Canucks will be able to retain both players, so I would not be the least bit surprised to see Rafferty in a bottom-pairing role next season. Having said that, he’s still very raw and inexperienced, and at his age, he probably doesn’t have much room to grow, so betting on him to step in and replace one of Chris Tanev or Troy Stecher has the potential to be disastrous if not handled properly. With that in mind, I think the most likely outcome would be for the team to sign a cheap veteran right-handed depth defenseman and let the two of them duke it out for a bottom-pairing role at training camp.

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Jeremy Davis’ prospect Graduation Probabilities System at NextGenHockey.ca is a great tool for predicting the likelihood that a junior, college, European, or minor league player will make the NHL, but its usefulness diminishes once a player is in the NHL. It’s still the best statistical tool I’ve seen, though, because it takes a number of predictors into account (scoring pace, age, height, and league).

Obviously, that only works for prospects, though. If you’re looking at pros and whether or not they’re likely to improve or maintain their current pace, all you can really bet on is boxcar stats, underlying shot-based metrics, a knowledge of aging curves, and a scout’s eye. It’s not an easy task, because no two players are the same, and while aging curves are a useful guideline, there are also a ton of players who are late bloomers or who can sustain a high level of play well into their thirties. If you find a fool-proof method for judging free agent signings, please let me know, I’ll be sure to use it.

From Urban Dictionary: White, middle-class, male, useless people—who have just enough family context to not be crushed by poverty.

From Wiktionary: (Internet slang, derogatory) An incompetent, unsuccessful middle-class or upper-class man who is protected from economic duress by his family’s wealth or influence.

In a broad sense, it describes any downwardly mobile white male who is poised to be less successful than the generation that came before him, which is basically the default for millennial men at this point. It can also describe the less successful scion of powerful figures in politics and business like Eric and Donald Trump Jr. You might also say that Francesco Aquilini is Luigi’s failson, given that Luigi built up the agricultural and real estate empire of which Francesco has been the chief beneficiary.

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Not really. He’s been a good partner for Quinn Hughes, but I think he’s benefited more from the arrangement than Hughes has. To be frank, he hasn’t been at his best for a number of years, and anything he gets at this point would basically be a legacy contract- and the Canucks aren’t in a position to be giving him that. As much as it pains me to say it, they should probably let him walk this summer unless he’s willing to take a significant discount.

It depends on who you ask and what your definition of “worth it” is. I don’t like the idea of a team that will likely have lost a piece or two due to cap constraints going into next year without their first-round pick, because it has the potential to go very poorly for them in a manner similar to the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks, so fans should be rooting for a playoff berth if only for that reason. There’s also a myriad of less tangible reasons that include giving their young players experience and juicing season ticket sales. Then again, if the threat of playing games in empty arenas due to Coronavirus outbreak is real, I’m not sure Francesco Aquilini will think it’s worth it, or be happy he spent money and assets so lavishly this season.

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There’s a very strong case to be made for either player. Virtanen is younger and in theory would have a higher ceiling, but he’s also benefited from some very favourable percentages this season and could be a candidate for regression. Tanner Pearson, on the other hand, basically is what he is, but what he is is very good. It would really depend on what kind of offers are out there. Virtanen strikes me as the kind of player that opposing GMs might be willing to overpay for, and if that’s the case, I’d have to seriously consider dealing him. If the returns are likely to be roughly comparable, though, I’d likely go with Pearson, if only because Virtanen is younger and more cost-controlled. It’s very close, though.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’m going to start by saying that I resent the use of the phrase “you guys”, as I usually do whenever anyone implies that there’s some kind of “house opinion” on anything related to the Canucks. That is not the case, never has been, and never will be as long as I have anything to say about it. I took a cursory glance at my post history and old tweets, and to the best of my knowledge, I’ve barely spoken about MacEwen since the Canucks acquired him, except to say that the coach was handling him in a reasonable fashion and using him as an example of a longshot free agent signing along with Yan-Pavel LaPlante when the Canucks signed Griffen Molino a couple of years ago.

The person you’re referring to who thought MacEwen “sucked” is Jeremy Davis, who has already expressed contrition on multiple occasions for his take on MacEwen, including in an article for this site. Ryan Biech and J.D. Burke also had reactions to the signing that were tepid at best, but kept those opinions mostly to the confines of social media. What happened in the aftermath has been pretty typical among a certain segment of readers who enjoy denigrating the site at every possible turn: they took the opinion of one person or a handful of people, equated it with the opinion of the site itself, and then used it as a way to dunk on people who had absolutely nothing to do with the original take. It’s been interesting, to say the least, to see people @-ing the CanucksArmy Twitter account for “hating MacEwen” when none of the writers who were associated with that take are active contributors for the site anymore.

Having said all that, even if I had written Jeremy’s MacEwen article, I wouldn’t feel the least bit bad about how things have worked out. I don’t like talking about Zack MacEwen in this context for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it puts me in the position of looking like an asshole if I point out that he hasn’t really developed into an impact player yet. He’s such a great story that it really shouldn’t matter that he’s really only played at replacement-level for the Canucks so far, that he has posted some of the worst shot and expected goal shares on the team, and that he’s somehow managed to post sub-40% shot and expected goals-for percentages with Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller as his most common linemates. It sucks when I have to do that! It makes me seem heartless. But unfortunately, in this instance, it’s relevant information that I can’t choose to ignore simply because it makes for a less compelling story than “Longshot CHL Free Agent Beats the Odds to Become Impact Player”.

The truth is, the premise of Jeremy’s argument was completely valid, and his biggest mistake was overcommitting to it. Spending the occasional contract slot on a longshot CHL free agent isn’t likely to hurt your team in the long-term, but it can be counterproductive if it becomes a pattern. Since the Canucks had already signed players like Mackenze Stewart and Yan-Pavel LaPlante to ill-advised ELCs (and would later do the same with Griffen Molino), pointing out that this was a troublesome trend wasn’t at all beyond the pale. There’s probably a version of that article that focuses less on MacEwen and more on the trend itself that doesn’t ruffle nearly as many feathers and is still cited today as a credible look into how the Canucks approach amateur free agents, but you live and you learn.

MacEwen obviously still has time to improve and I wouldn’t want to bet against him now after he’s already greatly exceeded expectations. But if what we’ve seen from him so far is all he ever turns out to be – a depth player who provides a bit of grit and energy – that is a player I will pass on 100 times out of 100 in CHL free agency, because players like that are available on the waiver wire dozens of times per season. That isn’t to diminish what Zack has done – he’s been a great story- but I do think taking the world’s biggest victory lap over a player with 4 career goals is a bit much.

At any rate, it’s funny to me that CanucksArmy can count both the world’s most notable MacEwen detractor in Jeremy Davis and its biggest booster in Cory Hergott among its contributors, but for some reason only one of their opinions is seen to be representative of the site as a whole. Something tells me if Cory had been wrong, people would be a hell of a lot less interested in taking a victory lap.